Love Them Live

I diverged from my usual MLK Day routine of playing every Impressions song in my collection augmented by some raucous ’50s gospel and decided to rock the hell out. I’m reading David Blight’s Frederick Douglass bio, and ol’ Fred liked to shake one’s lapels, and I imagine if Dr. King were here and saw this mess he might go aggro. Plus, I sensed my bride was up for some volume and clatter–she gets a mean eye-glint when her blood’s up.

Pre-glint, I had already loaded up some Butane James, but it’s not like that was so halcyon.

James Brown: Love Power Peace Live at The Olympia, Paris, 1971

The only official live document of Brown backed by Catfish and Bootsy Collins, with the former unspooling concertina wire solos at key junctures. Even the ballads will melt you–and not your heart. Your skin.

Nirvana: From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah

Just as their studio albums could almost be cut by three different great bands, their live albums have very distinct identities. This ‘uns rougher textured and more furious than the Reading record, at least to my ear. They really were a fantastic band, and I will never tire of them.

Joe King Carrasco & The Crowns: Danceteria Deluxe

Not really deluxe; in fact, it’s just a bit longer than an EP. But with the band’s self-titled Hannibal album OOP, this is the best place to experience these exuberant Tex-Mex garage-rock nuts in their prime. One of my very favorite party bands, and they’re plenty tuff. Three of the nine cuts are a bit rare, too. By the by, Joe’s website offers several hard-to-find items, but even he’s had to rip some of it from vinyl.

Hüsker Dü: The Living End

This was the end, my friends–selected live cuts from their final years. Their rant ‘n’ rave isn’t quite as potent in looser live versions, except the later songs, which are elevated from pretty good to pretty great by the ramshackle roil. We listened to this right after the above Nirvana record, and it was more apparent than ever to us that they were the essential bridge between hardcore and grunge.

Dead Moon: What a Way to See the Old Girl Go

Closing down Portland’s X-Ray Café in ’94, rock and roll’s greatest and most durable husband-and-wife team got a terrific show down on wax. Not a bad place to start for the benighted: with a decade of music under their belts and two ahead of them, they’re in their prime, and you get smoking versions of “Poor Born,” “Walking on My Grave,” “It’s OK,” and “54/40 or Fight” all in one place. Fred Cole, you’re missed on this turf.

Motörhead: Nö Sleep At All

Yeah, yeah–I know about recontextualization and all that shite, but if Lemmy hadn’t finally been killed by death, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have to hear their kinda-pale “Sympathy for The Devil” backing a fucking commercial. I turned this up all the way to clean that ooze out of my ears. Live’r than the Stones ever were, this is a mid period best-of that definitely wasn’t sucking in the Eighties. I’m tempted to say if you need one, maybe this? But I have Orgasmatron breathing down my neck…

Three for A King

Let me recommend three records that can help you celebrate the life work and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (upper square, lower right)

This four-disk, Pulitzer Prize-winning set looks back at the titular time period and ahead to the massive work we still have to do. In 19 pieces composed across 35 years, trumpeter Smith, his celebrated Golden Quartet, and Southwest Chamber Music tap into the danger, gravity, turbulence, and intensity and purity of focus that defined the Civil Rights Movement. Almost five hours in length, the set is never less than absorbing. Special props to the dual drummers of the Quartet: Pheeroan akLaff and Susie Ibarra.

Click here to sample an excerpt of the composition “Martin Luther King, Jr: Memphis, the Prophecy,” the set’s coda.

Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee (upper square, lower left)

Two hornmen dialogue about oppression, freedom and resistance in the Chihuahuan Desert, at the site of Magee’s mysterious sculpture near Cornudas, Texas. The recording has the character of a religious service and includes the ambient noise of the place. One of the best records of 2019.

Click here to sample the track “Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No” (McPhee is in the left stereo channel, Butcher in the right).

Ustad Saami: God is Not a Terrorist

Saami, a Palestinian, is the last living practitioner of a pre-Islamic music (featuring elements of Farsi, Hindi, Vedic, and Sanskrit) that does not endear him to local extremists. His practice is a testament to courage, belief, and devotion–and it sounds fascinating and moving (and good, to be sure): a kind of Middle Eastern Gregorian chant with tense instrumental backing.

Click here to sample a track and read more about Saami’s background.

Click here for an album “teaser.”

Quick Takes on My Other Listening Adventures

James Brown: Foundations of Funk–A Brand New Bag 1964-1964

Brown at his finest, on tracks that are gripping and propulsive not even considering his vocals, which are punctuated by screams that sound as avant-garde as Ayler’s honks.

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow

Though I found myself enjoying “Comeback Kid,” I just don’t have patience for whites people miserably moaning right now.

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

That title’s enticing, and the music’s admirable intense when the guitarist isn’t taking a turn; fortunately, the leader’s sax, Quin Kirchner’s drums and the compositions (!) win the day.

JLin: Black Origami

This landmark of EDM and the style known as footwork has spell-casting power: normally immune to such stuff, I’ve played it 20-25 times since its 2017 release and it mesmerizes and mesmerizes, even though I’m too old and not imaginative enough to dance to it.

Hama: Houmeissa

Synth music is back–even in the Sahara (try it–you’ll like it)!

Room Full of Mirrors

My day was so fraught with unexpected urgencies and aberrant activity that I barely squeezed in a record (I am such a hopeless nerd that “listen to one complete record actively” is one of the three items on my “Habit List” app. And that was done while driving from place to place; fortunately, it’s in the cab of my truck where I most completely commune, and sometimes merge, with the music.

I’ve been on a Hendrix kick lately–his work as much as anybody’s blooms perennially, in different formations and colors as I become an older listener–and I was thinking about my young friend and fellow Jimi fanatic Donnie Harden Jr., who’d been asking about the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack. His queries were to no avail because I hadn’t listened to it in awhile, so I’d brought it out to “The Lab” so I could really focus on it.

It may be crazy to say, but Hendrix is slightly underrated. 48 years in the rear view, he might as well be 48 years beyond. “Room Full of Mirrors” is, for me, the highlight of of Rainbow Bridge. The virtual meteor shower of streaking, sliding guitar lines with which he adorns this song is visceral, a shock to the synapses; I found myself wondering, “Who today can deliver such adornments?” The lyrics, too, confirm that Hendrix was a terrific personal songwriter…though in this case they seem to portend his fate.

On one side of “Room Full of Mirrors” is the slow-building, insinuating, stinging instrumental “Pali Gap” (a bit of a deep cut). On the other, is the all-Jimi studio version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” so stately, so magisterial it’s almost reverent, and thus funny (where–at least I feel this way–his Woodstock version was frequently terrifying). Almost.

The whole record’s pretty good, but its middle, its guts, is truly mesmerizing.

Doors to My Heart

Wayne Shorter: Emanon

A good friend gifted me with, um, a sampling of Ol’ Mr. Weird’s new opus, and on first immersion, I’m happy to report his playing is very powerful and imaginative for a 42-year-old–except he’s 85. The string arrangements create a disembodied aura for the music, but that’s perfectly weird. I’d love to sample the accompanying graphic novel.

The English Beat: Beat This! The Best of The English Beat

With the triumph of streaming, grocery store music ain’t like it used to be. I was piddling around looking for the right cough drop when “Save It for Later” danced out of Gerbes’ soundsystem–stunned, I looked down the aisle and saw another older person bopping his head happily. The soul, intelligence, and movement of the song lit a fire in me, so when I got home, I immediately pulled this and cranked it. They were pegged as ska, and they could nail that, but they grew it into something more personal and unique. With Special Beat Service, they seemed to still be growing–but that was it, after just three great LPs. They’ve reformed, but it’s not quite the same.

The Kampala Sound–1960s Ugandan Dance Music

The warmest and–this is a compliment–cutest sounding African comp I’ve heard. The vocals are mixed way up in the foreground and, along with the ass-tickling guitars, they’re seductive as hell. The whole kit and kaboodle‘s on YouTube, too.

The Flesheaters: A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die

I’ve not had any use for Chris D. except here. Maybe it has to do with the members of The Blasters and X who make up his band. If your mind wanders from the singer’s gaze into the abyss, and it will, it can concentrate on the rhythm section. Booga-booga, boogied.

50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong

And we’re not. This two-cd set’s a great intro to Mark E. Smith, a recently departed genius ranter, poet, eccentric, and curmudgeon the likes of whom we’ll never see again. Backing him, your grandma on bongos sounds great! And for a punk, he was surprisingly adaptable to the pop dance floor: a crank who wasn’t too invested in himself to have fun.

Patato & Totico

Carlos “Patato” Valdes (click that hyperlink, kids) invented the tunable conga drum, and I could swear I read that he also pioneered the three-conga attack, but I can’t locate the source. He’s at his best here, joined by a scintillating cast of Cuban masters, including Arsenio Rodriguez on guitar, Cachao on bass, and Totico on vox. Muy caliente!

Allison Moorer: Show

I received this as a gift from a dear cyber friend, and dug into it yesterday, finally, with great interest. I’d only heard Moorer backing up other artists (notably the much-missed Lonesome Bob) except for her song on The Horse Whisperer soundtrack (don’t ask–well, Dwight Yoakam covers Eddy Arnold on it). This is a superbly recorded, passionately performed live set, featuring Moorer’s sis, Shelby Lynne (their first recorded collab), Mr. Bob, and Kid Rock before he sunk into the pit (it’s a mid-‘Ought rekkid). Dang, she’s got a powerful voice, and she writes a fine, generic-plus country song. But she oversings, and some peculiar mannerisms in her articulation can be distracting; when Lynne takes her verses, the effect is one of mild relief. Still, a heartfelt and boisterous set.

Clifford Brown: The Singer Sessions

Brown’s sound is so burnished, so meticulously dynamic, that, while listening, you can easily get angry (all over again?) that he was taken so young. He’s amazing in a mostly accompanying role on this collection. The singers? Oh, just Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Helen Merrill. And should you be wrinkling your nose, perhaps, at the last, she belongs, at the very least by virtue of her great unsung debut, Brown with her every step of the way. Taste it right here.

CONGRATULATIONS to Ms. Jackie Shane and Numero Records for their Grammy nomination! Best Historical Recording: Any Other Way–get caught up on her story right here.

Also:

Enjoy a YouTube Playlist that samples these records!

Ham and Eggs

Mostly I have been inspired by Mr. McDowell’s birthday (the 12th) and the combined forces of Carnival and the New Orleans Saints (Crescent City longing). A couple punky things snuck in as punky things are wont to do. I put together a YouTube playlist for this installment (sans the punks, for focus’ sake, but I linked those albums below)–I’m still trying to get ahold of rhyme and/or reason!

Fred McDowell: You Gotta Move

If you like slide like I like slide, Fred must be in your top pantheon. This first outing he made for Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie (recorded in ’64-’65) is my favorite–but just by a hair. What the adjective “stinging” was designed for.

Blind Willie McTell: Atlanta 12-String

Nobody did play the blues like McTell, partly because he’s not always playing blues–he’s a swinging songster just as much. I love his singing, too, and this later record communicates some serious wit, accumulated through three itinerant decades.

Jessie Mae Hemphill: Feelin’ Good

The Ramones of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues, the She-Wolf of Como, Jessie Mae needs to be better known. Besides knocking out some deep late-night trance blues, she socks a Christmas song over the fence and rocks a great church tune with just her tambo. Get hip if you ain’t already, folks.

A Collection of Pop Classics by Reagan Youth

They weren’t ever pushed on me by my hardcore friends in their heyday, but two of their songs leapt off the Mom & Dad soundtrack as we watched it Friday night, and I required more the next morning. See also last post’s blurt on Superchunk.

Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul

Possessed of a smoky, sultry, and vulnerable voice, Miss Harris linked up with Allen Toussaint and the fledgling Meters for a handful of tracks in the mid-Sixties. That combo should conjure sone desire in your ears.

Paul Barbarin’s Jazz Band / Punch Miller’s Bunch & George Lewis: Jazz at Preservation Hall

Old-time New Orleans jazz, executed by masters, is difficult to beat for sheer high spirits, and the collective improvisation (an influence on Ornette Coleman) can fly under your radar. Atlantic cut three (or four?) of these records in the mid-Sixties in higher-fidelity than the music had ever enjoyed–unless you happened to hear it in person.

Danny Barker: Save the Bones

The New Orleans musical griot, singing pop and blues standards as well as his own songs with exuberance and knowing, making his guitar testify, and spinning tales in between. 79 at the time of the record’s release, he sounds about half that.

IDLES: Joy as an Act of Resistance

This item would have made my “Best of 2018” list had I heard it in time. A yobby, aggressive punk rock crew from Bristol that takes on Trump and Brexit while also applying a scalpel to themselves–and laying hearts bare. And there’s laffs! They’ve been around for a bit, too–I might as well give up trying to keep up!

There was more than one Reagan youth

In brief, L-R, each row:

Little Richard: The Georgia Peach

Don’t forget: wotta band!!! Especially Lee Allen on bulldozing tenor and Earl Palmer inventing rock and roll drumming.

Sacred Flute Music from New Guinea

The thought of “sacred flute music” gives me the fan-tods, but, lo and behold, but this stuff is not only inventive, but also a little catchy and fairly varied (for folk music).

Rosalía: Los Ángeles

A debut album of uncommon vocal intensity and focus, augmented almost solely by acoustic guitar. It isn’t quite flamenco, it’s not really pop, but it means business.

Hamid Drake & Joe McPhee: Keep Going

The highlight is the title opener, inspired and partially written by Harriet Tubman and offered to the growing number of us who are demoralized. I’d accept; it works. Elsewhere the two fond and familiar free masters make joyful racket with their drum and horn, respectively.

X-Ray Spex: Germfree Adolescents

I’ve been asked to present at a local high school’s seminar on identity, and given my choice of topics. I’m doing the whole hour on my favorite record ever written by a teenager. A teenage prophet, for teenagers 40 years later to discover.

Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes

Any day’s a great day to listen to Bird, but The Sound of Redemption, a neat documentary on the art and trials of the Parker-inspired saxophonist Frank Morgan, sent me in his direction. The film’s built around a Morgan tribute concert held at the man’s former home: San Quentin.

Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive

The best rock and roll album of 2018, partly because it nails the time. I played “Reagan Youth” 5 times today–then I played the very best of Reagan Youth.

Parquet Courts: Stay Awaaake

Instrumentally, these guys know every rock and roll move, sometimes constructing a crazy-quilt out of several in one song. Lyrically, like Superchunk, they seem to be taking a necessary piss (both albums have great songs about fights or fighting). But the “dumb,” affected vocals have built a wall between they and me.

Not so brief after all.